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Eight Years Since MLB Debut, Tyler Austin is an NPB Star

 Yuri Karasawa  |    Jun 18th, 2024 11:00am EDT

TOKYO, Japan – Nearly eight years after hitting back-to-back home runs with Aaron Judge in his big league debut with the New York Yankees, Tyler Austin is a star in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. 

Austin is no stranger to adversity, having battled testicular cancer at the age of 17 while attending Heritage High School in his hometown of Conyers, Georgia. Austin was drafted by the Yankees in the 13th round of the 2010 MLB Draft and was ranked 77 in Baseball America’s top prospects in 2013. He made his MLB debut on August 13, 2016, and homered in his first at-bat against Matt Andriese. The next batter – a 24-year-old rookie by the name of Aaron Judge – did the same, marking the first time in MLB history that two teammates both homered in their first career at-bat. 

Over the next three years, Austin bounced from Minnesota to San Francisco to Milwaukee, slashing .219/.292/.451 with 33 home runs in 209 MLB games. Unable to find a permanent home stateside, Austin took his talents across the Pacific, inking a one-year deal with the Yokohama DeNA Baystars. Though his debut NPB season proved to have unforeseen circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Austin made an excellent first impression on his new club, clubbing 20 home runs with a .969 OPS across 65 games. 

He returned in 2021 with even better results, swatting 25 doubles and 28 home runs with 1.006 OPS in 107 games. For hitters with at least 400 plate appearances, Austin ranked second in the Central League with a 177 wRC+, only behind future Chicago Cub Seiya Suzuki. He also represented the United States at the Tokyo Olympics, leading the team to a silver medal with two home runs, seven RBIs, and a 1.254 OPS in 6 games. He signed a three-year extension with the team at the end of the season. 

Austin’s following two seasons proved incredibly frustrating as he was limited to just 38 pinch-hit opportunities in 2022 with a right elbow injury. He also had a delayed start to the 2023 season and played in just 22 games before spraining his right clavicle in June, ending his season. From 2022 to 2023, Austin got just 92 plate appearances at the NPB level, playing 21% of the Baystars’ total games during that span. 

So far in 2024, Austin has been relatively healthy apart from a hamstring injury in April, posting a .948 OPS with six homers in 35 games, placing him second in NPB among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances with a 203 wRC+. He’s transitioned from right field to first base full-time and is displaying some of the best plate skills of his career, lowering his strikeout rate from 25.3% in 2021 to just 14.6% this year. “I don’t care if I hit cleanup, leadoff, or ninth,” Austin told Nikkan Sports last month. “I just want to do my job for the team wherever they need me.” 

Now 32 years old, Austin is looking to re-establish himself as one of the premier sluggers in Japan. Despite his many injuries, he’s been one of the best foreign players of the past decade in the NPB, with a career of .291/.380/.576 slashline and 166 wRC+. 

For Baystars fans, his former jersey #23 (later switching to #3) brought back fond memories of Bobby Rose, the best foreign player in team history who wore the same number and coached Austin in the Arizona Fall League in 2015. Austin’s journey has already taken him from suburban Georgia to the bright lights of New York to beautiful Yokohama. Tyler Austin has overcome personal and professional challenges to become a standout athlete, inspiring fans on both sides of the Pacific. 

Photo Credit: Kyodo News

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Yuri Karasawa